Best Books of 2020

2020 was a wild ride, and it was a very interesting exercise to reflect back on all the books I read (and didn’t read) this year. I found myself much more drawn to poetry; to short reads with a lot of depth; and putting down any book that was just too stressful.

With our local library closed quite a few months of the year, my reading list was a bit shorter. But as I made a list of favorites, it was just as hard to choose as always. All of these books were a gift discovered at just the perfect moment, and truly carried me through this year.

Mother Maria: Essential Writings

“The world is so exhausted from its scabs and sores, it so cries out to Christianity in the secret depths of its soul, but at the same time it is so far removed from Christianity, that Christianity cannot and dare not show it a distorted, diminished, darkened image of itself. It should scorch the world with the flame of Christ’s love, it should go to the cross on behalf of the world. It should incarnate Christ Himself in it.”

Maria Skobtsova

The Divine Milieu, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“Throughout my life, by means of my life, the world has little by little caught fire in my sight until, aflame all around me, it has become almost completely luminous from within…the divine at the heart of the universe on fire..Christ; his heart; a fire; capable of penetrating everywhere and, gradually, spreading everywhere…By virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Rose, by Li Young Lee

O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live

as if death were nowhere

in the background; from joy

to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom to

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms”

Evelyn Underhill – Worship, Concerning the Inner Life, The House of the Soul, and everything else

So it is that the real mark of spiritual triumph — the possession of that more lovely, more abundant life which we discern in moments of deep prayer — is not an abstraction from this world, but a return to it; a willing use of its conditions as material for the expression of love.

…Either secretly or sacramentally, every Christian is a link in the chain of perpetual penitents and perpetual communications through which the rescuing Love reaches out to the world. Perhaps there is no more certain mark of a mature spirituality than the way in which those who possess it are able to enter a troubled situation and say, “Peace,’ or turn from the exercise of heroic love to meet the humblest needs of men.

…Try to see people by His light. Then they become ‘real’.”

Evelyn Underhill

You Must Revise Your Life, by William Stafford

“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.”

William Stafford

Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,

The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”

Dostoyevsky

The Artist’s Rule, by Christine Valters Paintner

“Be. Here. This moment. Now is all there is, don’t go seeking another. …Lose track of all time. This too is prayer. Listen for the words that rise up: Awaken. Envision. Sing, Alleluia. Place marks on the page saying I am here. Watch as word and image dance together. Luminous. Illuminated. This is your sacred text. This is where God’s words are spoken, sometimes in whispers, sometimes in shouts. Be there to catch them as they pass over those sacred lips, tumbling so generously into your open arms.”

Christine Valters Paintner

The Abundance, by Annie Dillard

“Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.

Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.”

Annie Dillard

Revelation of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich

“And after this our Lord showed himself in even greater glory, it seemed to me, than when I saw him before, and from this revelation I learned that our soul will never rest until it comes to him knowing that he is the fullness of joy, of everyday and princely blessedness and the only true life. Our Lord Jesus said repeatedly, ‘It is I, it is I; it is I who am highest; it is I you love; it is I who delight you; it is I you serve; it is I you long for; it is I you desire; it is I who am your purpose; it is I who am all.

“…See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally. See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began, by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it. How can anything be amiss?”

Julian of Norwich

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